Pick one of the very best and most memorable moments of your life. The biggest one, maybe. The birth of a child? Graduation? Opening a business? The wedding day? Your first car? Were you able to record those moments in something other than brain matter?
Alright, now imagine having a bunch of those moments or events that are not only big, they are infamous. You will always hear folks with gray hair talk about remembering where they were when major catastrophic events took place in history. This writer watched the televised fight live when the legendary Showtime Kick was introduced to the mainstream MMA fan. The kick in which Anthony Pettis pulled a Keanu Reeves Matrix move and defied gravity to kick Benson Henderson in the face while practically running off of the cage horizontally at WEC 53 like a motorcycle with a clown on it at the circus. By the way, had that kick happened in a movie, it would have been called unrealistic. And also by the way, it looked better than any specially effected move in any of those movies. Pettis would later beat Henderson to win the world title at lightweight in the UFC too – in Milwaukee, no less. No need to pity Henderson though. He not only retained legend status in the sport by winning and defending that same belt later, but he is attributed (weekly) with changing the game with the dreaded calf kick – which has stunted the growth of quite a few title runs itself.
People said at the time that kick might have caused lasting damage. Not to Henderson, but to Pettis and even MMA - as though a high moment like that can hurt because it only goes down from there. Highlights can do that. Which brings us to another major event as mentioned at the outset. On top of the Showtime Kick was the infamous Wheaties box cover for Pettis. If one had not witnessed or was not engaged in MMA before people named Rousey or McGregor, one cannot understand the magnitude of seeing a UFC champion on the cover of the Wheaties box. Like the kick, the box was talked about as if ominous. The sport was not even legal in every state at this time! Yet, here was our MMA hero sharing a canvas with the GOATs of every sport. Still, people fretted or waited for other shoes to drop. This is shameful. Not only a bad look for followers, but also it put unfair expectations on a fighter (and his family) who truly deserved the highest amount of fighting honor Martial Arts might bestow.
There is a major takeaway from following the careers of Anthony (and his brother) in their fighting journey. Anthony is still that guy. The fan may try to say his best days are behind him – they tend to do that with fighters. But look back on your own moments. Have all of your life's steps been on mountain tops? Further, are you only a mountain top climber? Or a more fitting and analogous question since Anthony likes to fish; are you only a catcher, or a fisher (not an in-circulation word, but still)? Are you no longer a graduate because you are not at your graduation? Are you no longer a proud parent because you are not taking pictures with the new little pink and blue person at the hospital? Not to wax philosophical, but Anthony is about to compete against some of the very best competition in the world in the Professional Fighters League. Thinking of a career arc like his and listening to fans and media pontificate that the best days are behind is so very anti-Martial Arts. He is indeed still the guy that broke glass ceilings. Anthony has spoken at length about his journey and internal growth. About himself having to shake those major/infamous moments as his exclusive identity or standards for success to have to replicate and he has settled into being comfortable in his own tattooed skin – speaking of fresh coats of paint!
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